Have you ever watched a WNBA game?
I absolutely love it. It's a select group of the finest female athletes in the world playing the sport for the love of the sport.
It's not up to the standards of the NBA, you say?
Hogwash. I'll take a WNBA game over an NBA game anyday, and I'm fortunate enough to live in a city that offers both the NBA and the WNBA.
The women in the WNBA play the sport like they truly love the sport...They're committed, skilled and disciplined. They may lack the showboating, crowd-pleasing antics of the NBA, but they make up for it by putting on display, week after week, the true essence of basketball.
It's simply awesome.
I get the same feeling watching a TRUE independent film as I do watching the WNBA.
Have you ever seen a truly independent film?
I'm not talking about the stuff you see about a Landmark Theatre...sure, they carry some great films but VERY seldom are they true independents. They are a national chain, after all...they're in it for the money just as much as an AMC or a Sony theatre.
I'm talking about the kind of independent film that comes from the blood, sweat and tears of the filmmaker, the crew and the cast.
I'm talking about the kind of independent film that is put together on maxed out credit cards, the support of friends and loved ones, and a wing and a prayer.
I'm talking about films like "The Boys of Summerville," the second full-length feature film from writer/director Brooks Benjamin ("Point of Fear").
"Boys of Summerville" isn't a flawless film, at least not the way American audiences seem to define flaws.
Admit it. You're spoiled. You like your pristine images and crystal clear Dolby stereo sound systems.
You want your actors and actresses on that big screen to appear larger than life and without flaws...you don't really care if it took them 100 takes to really get there.
You want the kind of film that millions of dollars can buy, because millions of dollars can help to wash away the technical flaws, flubs and goofs.
Okay, most of the time it can.
I pity you.
You're missing out on some of the most exciting, creative, intelligent and entertaining filmmaking out there.
It's not being made by the Hollywood studios, but by the independent spirits that reside from coast-to-coast and around the world.
THESE films, films like "Boys of Summerville," aren't made for millions of dollars. They're made for hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. Some will see brief action in a theatre, maybe at film festivals and, if the filmmaker networks really well and gets a stroke of luck, they might find life and the break-even point on DVD.
Have I gone off on a tangent? ABSOLUTELY. Our independent filmmakers deserve it, because we have some amazingly gifted filmmakers working outside the Hollywood machinery and they deserve your attention.
Sure, some of the films are better than others. Some are amazing. Some are pure crap.
"Boys of Summerville" is better than a ton of them, and doesn't measure up to others.
My point is simple..."Boys of Summerville" is a darn fine film and, if you consider yourself a true connoisseur of cinema, you'll make the effort to catch it and films just like it.
The film stars Casey Payne ("Point of Fear") as Peter, a young man who left the small town of Summerville and found success. He returns to the town following the death of his father to sell the house and, perhaps, exorcise a few demons from his past.
Peter immediately reconnects with his old best friend, Rocky (Wesley Murphy, "The Work and the Glory III"), a good ole' boy wrestling with whether or not to date a woman in a wheelchair, Michelle (Amy Eakins Casterline, "Crime Wave: 18 Months of Mayhem") while wrestling with issues of his own.
As friendships get re-established, Peter comes face-to-face with unresolved issues with his father, a local legend and avid softball player. As he repairs the old house before putting it on the market, Peter takes a liking to a local wrecker driver/mechanic named Sam (Allison Varnes, "In a Blink") and the two dance around their attraction in the way only two wounded souls can.
Filmed on a modest production budget of approximately $55,000, "Boys of Summerville" works for two basic reasons...
First, Benjamin treats each of his characters like they truly matter.
Peter is a good guy. He may remind you of yourself, because his issues are issues we all face. How do we become independent, mature adults without disowning our past? Likewise, how do we deal with those wounds we suffered in childhood, and we all suffered a wound or two, without allowing them to define us?
Rocky? At first glance, he appears to the the script's comic relief. In many ways, he IS the script's comic relief. Yet, he's also the glue that holds it all together. He tries so hard to do the right thing, and he hardly ever gets there. He's like the best friend you really want to see end up happy, but he always seem to nearly miss it.
Even the obvious emotional baggage accompanying Sam and, yes, the disability that companions Michelle are treated as valuable parts of who they are rather than simple, stereotypical plot devices.
The other reason "Boys of Summerville" works is, quite simply, the cast.
Remember my tangent about WNBA players? The average WNBA player survives on a salary about equal to the production budget of this film. That's less than 10% of their male counterparts.
Do they complain? Of course they do. They should. They're worth as much, if not more, than NBA players.
It's the same here. Would these actors love to make it in the cinematic big leagues? There's no doubt. Yet, watching them bring their characters to life onscreen is a joy to behold because they're acting for the love of the craft.
Payne brings Peter to life with a quiet dignity, avoiding the histrionics that often accompany such roles as the successful big city boy who comes home. While Payne's more emotionally vulnerable scenes felt a bit flat at times, his scenes with Rocky are a delight and as the lessons keep piling up over the course of the film it's a joy to watch Payne's facial expressions change and, slowly, he begins to relax into himself and this place he used to call home.
Peter's slow evolution parallels nicely to that of Sam and, much like Payne's performance, Varnes is enchanting to watch as she begins to open herself up to the possibilities of love once again.
While the coupling of Peter and Sam is inarguably the central relationship in the film, it is the more awkward joining together of Rocky and Michelle that truly captivates. Much of this is due to the energetic and inspired performance of Wesley Murphy, who is, at times, simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.
Murphy wisely taunts us with Rocky, allowing us to grow closer to him, laugh with him and, if we're being honest here, to laugh AT him. Then, we find out who he really is and we wish we had a friend just like him.
As Michelle, Amy Eakins Casterline doesn't play a disabled woman. Hardly. She plays a woman who has a disability, a physical challenge...whatever word you choose to use. She makes Michelle a woman Rocky, heck any man, couldn't help but fall completely in love with.
Brad Bumgardner and Leigh Ann Jernigan also shine in supporting roles, though, as could be expected in an independent film, or in any Hollywood film for that matter, some of the supporting performances are a bit hit-and-miss as some play a bit closer to caricature than others.
The tech credits are generally solid, though the lighting is occasionally a tad too dark. Benjamin also over-utilizes the use of musical interludes throughout the course of the film, a logical temptation given the outstanding original music by Joe Wright (NOT "Atonement" director Joe Wright).
I complain. You complain. WE complain about the crap that Hollywood produces. Yet, how often do we really do anything about it? Do yourself a favor...this weekend, support an independent filmmaker.
You'll be glad you did.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic